You’re a high school senior. College is right around the corner. You’ve gone on visits, met too many enthusiastic tour guides to count, and think you know what you want. But do you really?
You might think your parents are the right answer. They’ve dealt with your older siblings. Might have even gone to college once themselves. But you’re not your siblings. And you’re definitely not your parents. Times have changed, even if they’re reluctant to admit it.
I found answers to all of my college-related questions in my high school’s college counselor. She suggested schools to consider, advice to get the best SAT scores, and insight on just how college works. After being enrolled in college for a semester and a half, there are a few pieces of “advice” I received from my counselor that I have found untruthful. Let’s start with one I’m sure most all of you have heard:
1. “Cost doesn’t matter.”
I scoff. Since when did upwards of $50k not matter? I know one of the first search criteria I input regarded cost. I knew my family’s limit… or at least thought I did. But my counselor told me so many times that, “Dream schools don’t have a cost! Financial aid is great! You can make it work, I promise.” Now, this isn’t to discourage you or frighten you away from higher education. It’s simply to remind you, as I have been reminded myself, that higher education is an investment. You’re putting a lot of money and time and effort into something that will hopefully help you more than hurt you in the end. Cost does matter for more people than not.
My advice: Talk to your parents or guardians. If they’re helping you pay for school, see what they’re comfortable with paying while you’re still enrolled. If you’re paying for school yourself, get their advice to see about loans and what crazy tuition prices are too crazy. Schools will help you as much as they can, and there’s money available for the taking. You just have to do the right digging to get it.
2. “It’s easy to budget your money.”
Okay. College gave me a reason to get a debit card. Friends with cars, weekend procrastination, and no parents to say we couldn’t add to one thing: shopping. A lot of shopping. Some of you probably don’t have as many shopaholic tendencies as I do, but boy, if you do? Good luck. You’re going to find every reason to blow that $50 your great Aunt Maudie sent you in the mail, and you’re going to love every second of it. The time will come when you have to decide between buying shampoo or cancelling your Netflix subscription. Let me just say, you’d be surprised at how long you can use your roommate’s or friend’s… but please, ask first!
My advice: Look for the generic/off brand of groceries whenever you go shopping, and if you know that you won’t be able to restrain yourself in the mall, don’t go. Your friends won’t have a problem with it, and if they do, they aren’t the friends for you.
3. “Your high school experiences are the most important experiences you’ll bring to college.”
Alright, Ms. Counselor, I’ll give half credit on this one. Let me tell you why. High school lets you decide what your interests are. You can dip your toes into all kinds of interest pools to find out what you’re good and bad at. You can also convince yourself you need to major in biology in college to get BIO 100 and realize that the only reason you liked biology was because of the funny shapes cells and bacteria make when you look at them under the microscope. BOOM. You’re an art major. My interests in high school inspired me to pursue them in college, but I’ve already switched the concentration within my major once, added a minor, and considered adding another major. I’ve been at college for a semester. Interests change. You’re going to meet new people to introduce you to new things, take a class with a professor so enthralled in his or her subject that you’ll want to be too, and join clubs you never knew existed.
My advice: Be open to new things. Take that cooking class or go to float yoga (look it up). Chances are, it’s free and you’ll have fun. Don’t stick with what you’re comfortable with and don’t live in your high school past forever. Ditch the varsity jacket, buddy. It may be warm, but it won’t help you warm up to your upperclassmen peers.
4. “College is completely different than high school.”
I have to go halvsies on this one again. At first, college is like living on a totally different planet. This might be the first time you’re living at school with people the same age as you and sharing a bathroom with everyone on your floor. There are international students, meal plans, and no parents waiting for you at home with fresh laundry or easy smiles. Your parents drop you off and you’re left with the stark reality of figuring out what you want to do with your life and, more often than not, why you’re paying to find out. And yet, the experience is familiar. Your room and floormates become your family. You’ll find that the easy smiles of your parents and the shoulders you cry on belong to your friends. Someone will always have extra Tylenol or cold medicine or know how to brace a broken bone. People will still form cliques. You’re going to fail a quiz or three, not eat as well as you probably should, have fun, make bad decisions, and be stressed. The list goes on, but the good outweighs the bad.
My advice: Embrace change. Hundreds of freshies go through this every year and hundreds of upperclassmen graduate. Don’t be ashamed of crying because you’re scared or nervous or too excited to be able to handle yourself. Change is refreshing. Oh, and don’t go thinking that college boys and college girls are so different than high school boys and high school girls. They’re just older. And poor.
5. “You’re going to stay in touch with all of your friends.”
Incorrect. You get busy, they get busy. You make more friends, they make more friends. Your horizons broaden, their horizons broaden. And suddenly, you’re drifting away from more friends than one. High school “convenience” friends, the ones you could ask for gum or math homework help and know they wouldn’t be annoyed, will be the first ones to go. And then the “friends of friends.” The ones you used to hang out with, but you didn’t invite them there in the first place. But the ones closest to you will always stay. I’ll admit, it might feel like you’re being replaced, but your home friends will always be your home friends. They’ll be there to fill out March Madness brackets and down entire pizzas between Mario Kart rounds.
My advice: Be prepared for the worst. People change. Sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad. Those who want to be around will be, and sometimes cutting your losses hurts now but will be better in the long-run.
6. “Don’t have too much fun!”
Wrong. Have as much fun as you want. Or as little. This is completely up to you. If you want to look back on college and remember your favorite study room in the library, find your favorite study room in the library and then stay there. If you want to look back on college and not remember anything because you were blackout drunk the whole time, get blackout drunk and stay that way. Okay, maybe not. College is what you make of it. Just be aware of your decisions and their repercussions.
My advice: The tried and true, “What would your grandmother think if she found out?” works well. You have to find balance between having fun and staying serious. Balance comes with time and experience. Know yourself.
7. “You’ll be okay.”
I’m kidding, I swear. You’re going to be fine. Your counselor and your parents and your friends and your uncles and that little old couple that lives down the street… they aren’t lying to you. College might be a hard adjustment. It also might not be. I can’t guarantee that these will be the best years of your life, but I really hope that they will be.
My advice: None needed. Ms. Counselor is spot on here.
Look forward to college because college means new information and experiences. Use your peers to learn. They’re all new. And you’re new to them too. Remember that not everything is going to work out the first time. Whether this is a relationship or a paper or finding the perfect balance between Sprite and cherry Crystal Light to make a cafeteria-grade (nonalcoholic, of course) Shirley Temple. Give yourself time, listen to what others have to say, and remember to thank your counselor at graduation. She did her best.